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His Stolen Heart Still Beats

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“I don’t feel anything from this one,” Malon says, keeping the mask at arm’s length.

It’s a sunny afternoon, and they’ve spread his mask collection out on the porch, because both of them know better than to take out cursed artifacts in the middle of the night. Most of the masks are harmless. The one she’s holding right now isn’t one of them.

She turns it over carefully, neckerchief covering her hand like an oven mitt, tilting the Fierce Deity mask so not even its white hair brushes against her skin. It’s not necessary, but still more prudent than he’d been when he got it.

“I could feel the Zora,” she says. “And the Goron, and the Deku scrub. It’s as if...not that they’re alive, but a...presence, perhaps?”

His lip twitches up. “The memory of who they were.”

“So if this one is more powerful,” she muses, “why does it feel like less?”

Malon would have made a good adventurer. She’s perceptive enough to know when something is strange, brave enough to confront it, and cautious enough to not let it trick her. A few of the many reasons he admires her.

“That’s to be expected,” he says. “If its nature were obvious, no one would ever touch it.”

Her brows furrow, and she wraps it in the cloth again, very, very carefully.

“You think it wants to be worn?” she asks.

He’s never heard so much as a whisper from it, but that’s no reason to grow complacent.

“Majora did.”

* * *

They’re setting up camp for the first time in a new Hyrule, and it’s his and Twilight’s turn to survey the perimeter. The woods are quiet, but not overly so. There’s a trail running north-south, parallel to a creek, and it bears the tamped-down dirt and broken branches of regular use. No sign of magic beyond the odd fairy. The wilderness is never quite safe, but it will do for now.

They make their way back to the fire, where the other seven are gathered. There’s a flurry of motion as three people dart away from each other. Two of them are Wild and Warriors, but the third is—

It’s a face far too much like his own. White hair, red markings, empty eyes. In one motion he draws the Biggoron Sword and slams the mask and its wearer into the ground.

“Put him down,” he says, voice cold as the steel in his hand.

“Hey, hey!” It’s Legend’s voice beneath him. “What the hell, old man?”

It’s Legend’s voice, but Majora could sound like the Skull Kid, too.

“You are going to take that mask off,” he says, blade never wavering from the mask’s chin. “And let him go unharmed. Now.”

“Have you lost your goddamn—”

Now.”

“Ugh, fine!” Legend tears the mask off his face. “There’s no need to yell.”

He hands it back, and the glare in his eyes is a welcome sight. His face is free of marks, and he jumps to his feet with the same restless energy as always. Even the rough, pointed way he brushes the dirt from his tunic seems accurate.

“Of all the things to flip out over,” he mutters. “It’s not even magical.”

It’s easy to forget, sometimes, how young Legend is. How young all of the others are. Legend has traveled more lands and learned more about magical artifacts than any of them, but if he takes that for granted it could get him killed.

The Biggoron Sword slides back into its sheath. “Not everything that poses a threat is obvious.”

“No, I know magic,” Legend says. “And I know dark magic way better than I’d like. This isn’t it.”

There’s no point in arguing. Malon’s neckerchief is hanging from a branch—the cloth she gave for keeping the mask protected. A little part of her wrapped around a part of him.

He retrieves the cloth without breaking eye contact. “Care to tell me why you were going through my things?”

“It was my idea,” Warriors speaks up. “He was examining it at my request.”

His gaze is steady, his shoulders squared. It’s an uncommonly solemn look on him, and suggests that this was more than an idle prank.

“And what, captain, were you looking for?”

Warriors watches him, watches the cloth winding back around the mask.

“Something I’d lost a long time ago.”

The others are silent. He can feel the tension rolling in Wind’s shoulders, the keenness in Legend’s eyes. It would be cruel to put them all through this.

“There’s a creek to the west. Walk with me.”

Warriors relaxes, marginally. It must not be something he’s ready to share with them all, either. The two of them head west, and if the others gossip, they at least have the grace to wait until they’re out of earshot.

The sun is low in the sky now, and though it’s not quite sunset, it will be soon. The trees reach up, bare branches twisting, clawing at the air. The forest is silent save for the snap of twigs under their boots, and the whisper of the wind through the hollows.

In hindsight, his actions must look bizarre to the rest of their group. Legend does know dark magic better than anyone else, and isn’t stupid enough to put on a mysterious artifact without confirming that it’s safe. But the mask should have taken effect no matter how harmless it seemed on the outside. Legend was probably strong enough mentally to prevent his mind from getting ripped apart, but there was no way he could stop the mask from reshaping his body.

So why hadn’t it?

He stops walking when they’re close enough to call for the others if needed, but far enough that normal speech won’t be overheard.

“You said you’d lost something,” he starts.

“I did.” Warriors meets his eye evenly. “More precisely, someone.”

“Oh?”

“I knew a boy from the Kokiri Forest,” Warriors says, “with a mask just like that. He was an orphan.” He shakes his head. “No. A child soldier. I tried to look out for him as much as I could, but...he disappeared one day.”

“You were worried?”

“I thought he was dead.”

Warriors’ voice is harsher than expected, and tight like he’s holding back even more. It calls to mind Malon’s scolding from years ago, about how keeping himself unattached to people didn’t mean they were unattached to him. But he’d been fresh out of Termina when he met Warriors, too used to being forgotten, and the thought never occurred to him that someone else wouldn’t.

“So when I see you with the same markings,” Warriors says, “you can’t blame me wanting to know.”

He has a point. An uncomfortably solid point, and if he wasn’t a brother in arms then, he certainly is now. It’s impressive that he kept his grief and curiosity quiet for as long as he did.

Even so, going through another man’s belongings is unacceptable.

“You could have asked me.”

Warriors doesn’t miss a beat. “Would you have answered?”

The question hangs in the air between them, like a fog so thick it chokes out any response. The correct answer is Of course, you have a right to know, but he can’t bring himself to lie. Judging by the way Warriors’ gaze hardens, the silence is answer enough.

“Right then,” the soldier says, and turns back toward camp. “It won’t happen again. Message received, loud and clear.”

There’s a tightness in his shoulders, the same as he wore after shouting matches with his superiors during the war. It’s not the way a conversation like this should end.

“Hold on.”

Warriors stops, glances back at him. “Hmm?”

“I should have told you,” he says. “And I should have told you I was leaving, back then.”

Warriors’ eyes widen, and for a few moments he stands frozen, before the stiffness leaves his body and he snorts. His face looks torn between relief and frustration.

“I knew it.”

“You did.”

“Tell me how you got those marks,” he says, “and we’ll call it even.”

* * *

Your friends, what kind of people are they? I wonder...Do they think of you as a friend?”

* * *

Night has fallen over the ranch, casting the world in black and silver. The grounds are silent, the stars still, and the moon is where it’s meant to be.

He’s left his longsword inside. There’s nothing here to use it for, but its absence leaves an unnatural lightness on his back. He leans against the farmhouse wall. Its pressure is a poor substitute for the blade.

The wood below him creaks, almost inaudibly. The door swings open to reveal Malon. She shuffles out in her nightgown, and leans into his side.

“Couldn’t sleep?” she asks.

“It’s a beautiful night,” he says. “Don’t worry, I’ll rejoin you soon enough.”

She hums, but doesn’t seem inclined to go back to bed too quickly, either. Talon’s family are visiting, and it’s the first time they’ve had the ranch to themselves all day. He wraps an arm around her waist, and feels her sigh against his shoulder.

“When you look at the moon,” she says, “do you ever think of Termina?”

“Occasionally.”

Very occasionally. Truth be told, Malon probably thinks about it more than he does, and she never even saw it.

She whispers, “I hope Anju and Kafei are okay.”

It takes him a few seconds to dredge up who Anju and Kafei were. The memory is distant, almost like watching someone else’s life, but it’s there.

“I’m sure they’re fine.”

“You know,” she says softly, “you can always go visit your old friends. I won’t mind.”

He does know. Saria, Darunia, Ruto, Nabooru, Zelda, Impa. They’re alive and well in this lifetime, and he could reach out to them, but...

“Most of them don’t know me anymore,” he says. At the saddened look on her face, he adds, “It’s alright. I don’t remember much of them, either.”

Malon’s face only dims further at that.

“For a while, I wasn’t sure if you even remembered me.”

A pang of guilt stabs through him. He had brushed her off, at first. It wasn’t out of unkindness, but everything in Hyrule had been foreign when he’d returned, full of things and people he recognized in the abstract but felt nothing for. It wasn’t a matter of yearning for the old timeline, either; the world-that-wasn’t feels more like paging through someone else’s sketchbook now.

What does stand out in his mind is the person he was when he came back, and it’s a wonder that she didn’t write him off completely. A wonder, but not a miracle: the gods have never done anything with his happiness in mind.

“Malon?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you.”

Her lip quirks up. “For what?”

He presses a kiss to her forehead.

“For not giving up on me.”

He’ll play the role they’ve given him, because he must. But he refuses to forget who he is again.

* * *

The right thing, what is it? I wonder...If you do the right thing, does it make everybody happy?”

* * *

“It’s not much of a story,” he says, holding up the cloth-wrapped mask beside his face. “Turns out, if you use it often enough, part of it stays.”

Warriors’ brow wrinkles, and his lips press into a thin line.

“Do I want to know what would compel you to use it that much?”

The concern in his voice is obvious now, but it’s still strange to hear.

“I’m here now, aren’t I? Put your worry to rest.”

Warriors’ frown only deepens.

“It is empty,” he says, “isn’t it?”

It isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. It feels exactly the same as the hundreds of times he used it before—that is, like a hollow piece of painted wood. But it should have possessed Legend, and it didn’t.

His doubts must show, because Warriors speaks again.

“It doesn’t hurt you to try it on, right? That should answer that.”

It doesn’t hurt. In fact, for all it stretches and breaks and restitches his body together, it feels more natural than his usual shape. That might be different if he tried to wear it without transforming. But he’s never had difficulty removing it, either.

“Go on ahead,” he says. “I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.”

Warriors’ ears twitch, and his eyes scan the forest around them for threats. There’s only the odd shriek of the whip-poor-will, but it’s enough. No monsters are lurking here.

Satisfied, Warriors’ lip quirks up. “Going to test it out?”

“Perhaps.”

“If it’s empty, you owe our collector friend an apology. Or at least, an explanation.”

“He’ll demand one anyway, but fair enough.”

Warriors snorts, and goes back the way they came.

The sun is setting now, leaving half the sky streaked with fire, and the other side engulfed in darkness. He returns to the creek, where there’s enough of a break in the trees for the last rays to come through. If he angles the Biggoron Sword just right, he can still see his reflection in the metal.

The neckerchief, he tosses over his shoulder. The mask is pale like bone against the twilight woods. He turns it over in his hand, as if to give it one last chance to warn him. As always, it doesn’t.

He takes a long breath, closes his eyes, and does a mental survey of his body, starting from the dirt beneath his boots, up through the bones, muscles, tendons of his legs, his torso, the weight of the armor and scabbard on his back, through the tightness in his neck and brow.

This time, no matter what the mask wants, he’s going to hold on. He lets out the breath, one hand tight over the sword’s hilt, and with the other he lifts the mask to his face.

The creek trickles behind him, and somewhere the whip-poor-will cries. The mask is as silent as ever. His body never fits him quite right, but it feels no stranger than usual. He checks his reflection anyway.

The only person he sees there is himself.

* * *

He’s hanging a picture one morning when he feels Malon’s gaze on his back. For once, she’s hanging back on the stairs, body half-hidden behind the railing. There’s a stiffness in her posture that isn’t usually there.

“Morning, stranger,” he says, and lays the hammer down.

She snorts, and her shoulders relax slightly. She takes another step down, but doesn’t approach him just yet.

“Just wanted to see what handsome young dolt thought he should take up carpentry when half the house is still asleep.”

“Careful.” He smiles over one shoulder. “I’m married.”

It’s an old joke between them, but it startles a laugh out of her, and she comes down to hug him from behind. Her arms are tight around his torso, and her breathing is faster than it should be.

“Hey,” he says, laying one of his hands over hers. “What’s wrong?”

For a long moment, she’s quiet. Her eyes drift down to the hammer, before closing, and when she speaks, her voice is very quiet.

“You know I’ll love you, whatever you are, right?”

Ah. The masks. Or rather, the everything he’s been through. Even he can’t keep it straight half the time.

He turns to embrace her fully, threading his fingers through her hair as she rests her cheek in the crook of his neck.

“I know,” he says. “And every day I’m grateful for that.”

She swallows, and nods. Her muscles are still tense, but she breathes a little easier now.

“Whatever happened before,” she murmurs, “you’re my husband now, and you’re stuck with me.”

He chuckles. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

* * *

What makes you happy? I wonder...Does doing what makes you happy, make others happy, too?”

* * *

When the mask comes off, there isn’t the least tug of resistance, no new markings on his face. It’s as if the object truly is inert.

A chill runs up his spine, and it has nothing to do with the cooling air around him. Did something happen to the mask without him noticing? Did something happen to the spirit? He’s never heard from the spirit, certainly never trusted it, but the thought still leaves an aching hole in his chest.

Calm. He needs to stay calm, and not jump to conclusions. No matter what Legend says, there was magic in the mask at some point, or else where would his markings—oh.

It’s a slow, creeping realization, and not one he wants to entertain. But if the spirit wasn’t dispelled, and it isn’t in the mask...

Slowly, stiffly, he wraps the mask in the cloth again. It’s not necessary, but it makes things feel slightly more routine, or as close to routine as his life ever gets. He sets the mask on the ground, and wraps his fingers around a sturdy branch just in case.

Inwardly, he finds the part of himself that feels like it’s wrapped up tight, just like the mask itself, and pulls.

This time, the shift comes as easily as it ever does. Whatever magic the spirit had, it’s at least enough to spare him the agony of his body rearranging itself. It’s over in a matter of seconds, and his reflection confirms it worked. The mask really is unnecessary.

The worst part of his other shape is how natural it feels. There’s no heady rush of bloodlust, no loss of control, no power fantasy come to life. If anything, his head feels more clear than usual, and the ever-present buzz of wrongness has retreated from his bones. It’s the closest he ever comes to feeling normal.

Majora probably felt normal to the Skull Kid, too. It probably seemed harmless, useful at first: a source of power and attention for a child that felt lonely and unloved. Only when the wearer grew complacent did Majora show its true nature, and this mask might be the same way.

Except that Majora hadn’t stayed behind inside its host.

His stomach lurches at the thought. It’s wrong. Terribly, disgustingly wrong. His body, for all his discomfort with it, is his, and the gods have toyed with it too many times already. He almost wants the damn spirit to talk to him, to gloat like Majora did, so he’ll have confirmation of whether this nightmare is real.

And yet, there’s not a whisper, not even an echo from a soul that used to be.

It’s as if the spirit’s disappeared, yet somehow left its magic behind. It’s not possession. He’s been possessed before, by Mikau, Darmani, and the Deku scrub. Possession is a heavy, disorienting feeling, like he’s carrying a hundred pounds of armor while sleep-deprived. It makes his heart ache with grief that isn’t his.

But for now, the inside of his head just feels like him.

* * *

The sky’s gone dark when he returns to camp. He’s back in his usual shape, and calls ahead so the others know it’s him.

“You were right,” he says to Legend. “There’s nothing in it anymore.”

Legend huffs. “Obviously. What was that mess about earlier?”

“It used to house a spirit. One not known for its good temper.”

“If it was so dangerous,” Legend says, “why were you carrying it around?”

It’s tempting to ignore him and put the mask away, but Legend isn’t done talking.

“Considering you pulled a sword on me for it, I think I’ve earned an answer.”

Warriors shoots them a look, and the others are watching from their places by the fire. This isn’t a matter he can brush off as usual, and honestly, he shouldn’t.

“It was a gift,” he says at last. “I received it from an entity called Majora.”

“Entity?”

“Another mask.”

“A mask gave you another mask,” Legend deadpans.

“It did,” he replies evenly.

Warriors spins a wooden rod in his fingers. He asks, a little too casually, “When did this happen?”

“While on the moon.”

Legend glares. The rest of them groan.

It’s not a lie, and he doesn’t try to be cryptic, but it’s a nice side-effect. The moon is practically a running joke in their group at this point, the perfect non-answer for unwanted questions.

But this time someone asks, “What was the moon like?”

It’s Twilight. The others give him puzzled looks.

He shrugs. “Hey, I want to know.”

“I do, too,” Warriors says. “What was it like, ‘old man?’”

Normally, this would be the point to change the topic, or deflect it with another truth that sounds like a lie. But there’s a pain under Warriors’ words that still hasn’t healed, and won’t heal for a long time.

“You know what?” Legend says, eyes glinting with amusement. “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s hear about this moon.”

It’s three against one, and the other five look uncertain. Wild, Wind and Hyrule share a glance like they can tell something’s happening but aren’t sure what. Four sits back, observing, calculating. There’s a deep frown on Sky’s face like he wants to speak up, but his lips stay tightly shut.

But the wound in Warriors’ voice is the tipping point. It’s a wound that could have been avoided, if he’d been honest with Warriors before.

“Alright.” He takes a seat by the fire, sets the mask and sword aside, and leans back. “Once upon a time...”

“Oh, come on,” Legend mutters, and several of the others chuckle or roll their eyes.

“Once upon a time,” he repeats, “there was a demon that sought to crash the moon into the earth...”

He tells them the shortest version of events, leaving out the three days he’d lived through hundreds of times, and the dozens of people, families, cultures he’d met along the way. They’re too hazy in his mind to describe well, anyway. But there’s only one story that really matters: the moon, Majora, and the boy from the Kokiri Forest.

At first, there’s frequent grumbles (from Legend), questions (from Wind), and aside glances (between everyone else). That’s no surprise. It’s almost impossible to recount without the story sounding like madness or a fairy-tale. He keeps his tone just light enough that they can’t guess whether he’s serious.

He talks, distantly, about how the boy freed four giants from four corners of the world, and how the giants caught the moon as it plummeted from the sky. He talks about how Majora fled to the moon, the boy following close behind. He counts four moon-children that took his masks one by one, and gave him only questions in return. Questions about friends, justice, happiness, and his true face, whatever that was supposed to mean.

“I don’t get it,” Wind says. “Were they Majora’s friends?”

It’s a good question, and one he still can’t answer.

He remembers meeting the mask, his mask, for the first time. Back then, it did have a presence: cold, restless, eager for a fight.

More vividly, he recalls the image of a white-faced boy, younger than even Wind is now, breath ragged, trembling hands stained red. A boy crumpled alone in an iridescent dungeon, a deep gash in his side where Majora had ripped him almost in half. Only desperate adrenaline kept his eyes from slipping shut.

It’s strange. In his mind’s eye, he clearly remembers the face of a child who looked terrified. It’s clearer than any of his other memories from Termina, in fact. But he doesn’t remember feeling terrified. If anything, he’d felt impatient, ready to rip Majora tentacle from tentacle.

He remembers the boy’s wide eyes darting between one mask and the other, between the devil he knew and the demon he didn’t. A choice between oblivion and the unknown. He’d put the choice off for as long as he could, but in the end, he’d made it.

A snapping sound interrupts, and across the fire, Warriors is hunched over, hands shaking around the rod he’s cracked clean in two. Twilight is pale, and utterly still. Sky’s gaze darts around the circle, while Legend is leaning back with his arms crossed and eyes averted. The others seem lost in their own thoughts, save for Wind, who is still listening intently.

Damn. There’s Malon’s warning again: just because he doesn’t care anymore, doesn’t mean that others won’t. Warriors, especially, did not need these mental images tonight.

“Story’s over.”

They let out a collective breath of relief, and Warriors jerks up, sticks falling to the ground.

“Hey!” Wind says. “You didn’t actually tell us what—”

“As you can see, Majora is gone, and I am here.” He rises to his feet. “I’ll take first watch.”

* * *

The stars are bright overhead. The others are wrapped in their blankets, dead to the world, and he’s staring into the fire.

Something’s off about the memories of his confrontation with Majora.

The emotions don’t line up with how his body looked. It wouldn’t be remarkable to feel numb, or distant, as he did for the rest of Termina and everything before it. But “eager for a fight” is the exact opposite of what he saw on his face.

A cold jitter of dread crawls up his spine, and his instincts tell him that he probably shouldn’t keep thinking about this. But it’s his body, his face, and he has the right to know.

Come to think of it, how had he seen his face? There were no mirrors in the dungeon. But the memory is sharp and indisputable, and it’s clearly the perspective of someone else looking at him—looking up.

His gaze drifts across the ground, over the fire, the soil, the cook-pot that Wild left to clean tomorrow. It drifts over to the Biggoron Sword in its sheath, and finally, to the mask.

On the moon, the mask hadn’t been empty. It had been very much alive, and restless, and eager for a fight.

The mask had been watching him, hungry, waiting—and now he remembers that more clearly than he remembers growing up, saving Hyrule, or getting his chest ripped open.

He grabs the cursed thing and rips off the cloth. Its eyes are hollow, inert, dead. There’s no whisper from its mouth, no voice cackling in his head. It’s harmless now, a child’s play-thing at most, but back then—

What did it do to him? What had it put in him?

His fingertips are white and trembling where they grip the mask’s cheek. The creeping chill twists tighter in his chest. He ought to look away, ought to throw the damn thing in the creek and pretend he never saw it, but the wound is already half-open and he wants his answers now.

The Skull Kid. The Skull Kid had gotten possessed, too, by Majora. At first, Tatl and the other fairies hadn’t even realized. They’d assumed their friend was merely acting meaner than usual. A personality shift, just like—

For a while, I wasn’t sure if you even remembered me.”

Like he’d forgotten the people he used to care about. Like he’d forgotten how to care.

He rifles back through hazy memories, and all the things he’d done in Termina before confronting Majora. He’d brought a band together to help its manager feel less homesick. He’d helped another man’s chickens grow up, so the man could smile one last time before the world ended. He’d spent days, weeks, rewound time over and over so Anju and Kafei could reunite.

The day after he fought Majora, Anju and Kafei invited him to their wedding. He hadn’t bothered to go, hadn’t seen the point. That was what the mask did to him, just like Majora did to the Skull Kid.

But the Skull Kid had eventually gotten his body back.

His breaths are coming on too fast now, and if he doesn’t do something about it he’s going to scream. The mask, that wretched, awful mask, is thrown face-down into the dirt. He stands, quietly so he won’t wake the others, and paces across a barren stretch of earth.

There’s no presence in his head except for him, no hint of any spirit messing with his mind. But something isn’t right. His head is clear, but...

But not all of him had come back from the moon. The part that knew how to be funny, and gentle, and loving hadn’t come back. He had to rebuild it, piece by piece, with a lot of badgering and support from Malon.

For the most part, it worked. He feels like a person more days than not, now. But that original part is gone.

The image returns of the boy bleeding out, too weak to stand, too weak to even speak. The picture gets shaky toward the end, as the boy’s eyes grew unfocused and the tremors worsened.

The original was—

His heart is rattling like a hawk in a too-small cage, and the blood has turned to ice in his veins. His hands clench, unclench, nothing is comfortable, nothing is right. The dirt beneath his feet has worn away to barren rock. Layer after layer, peeled away, peeling layers of himself away—

He steadies himself against a tree-trunk, and the last moon-child’s words come creeping back to him.

Your true face...what kind of face is it?”

There’s a reason why his body doesn’t feel like his own.

I wonder...”

There’s a reason why his memories feel like another man’s.

Is the face under the mask your true face?”

And it’s the reason why, even after twenty years in this shape, he never refers to himself as “Link” or “Time.” Because those aren't his names, and never were.

A hot well of bile bubbles up in his throat, and he has to slap a hand over his mouth and sink to the ground to keep himself from vomiting.

He’s lied to them all. He’s lied to Malon.

The Hero of Time died on the moon.

* * *

He’s slumped against the tree, staring into nothingness, when there’s a rustle in the ground-cover beside him.

"You look like shit.”

He—the spirit—jerks toward Warriors, and if it had been a monster they’d already be under attack. So much for being “fierce.” He sighs, and runs a tired hand over the face he stole.

"Your watch isn't until tomorrow night."

"Can't sleep." Warriors crosses his arms, and slouches against the same tree. "Thanks for that, by the way."

“You’re welcome,” the spirit says dryly.

Warriors is around twenty-four, an adult by Hylian standards, but still so terribly, achingly young. The heroes are all far too young. They share other similarities, too: the same courage as the boy from the Kokiri Forest, the same stubbornness, same mischievous streak.

Warriors grunts, and his gaze flickers up.

“If I’d known what the story would bring up, I wouldn’t have asked. You don’t owe me an explanation.”

It’s an unusual kindness, considering what happened between them today. That’s another thing the rest of them have in common. They’re not just heroic, but kind. It's something the spirit needed a long time to relearn.

He waves Warriors’ apology away. “Not your fault.”

“I’m taking the rest of your watch. Get your old man bones some sleep.”

“Not necessary.”

Warriors shoves him.

“This is officially me as your fake-older-brother telling you to go to bed. Or I’ll tell the others you used to bite people.”

Despite everything, that gets a laugh out of him. “Fine, then. Hold the fort, captain.”

He walks back towards the fire, eye casting over the camp, and the sleeping band of heroes.

It’s too late for the boy from the Kokiri Forest, but it isn’t too late for the others. He will make sure all of them get back to their eras safe and whole, and that they return to homes where they are loved. And until then, he will protect them, for as long as his stolen heart still beats.